27 February 2023
Mental health is something everyone deals with inside and outside the workplace. Whether your job is the source of mounting stress, you struggle with a mental health condition, or troubles in your personal life have reached a peak - you have the right to take time for yourself and ensure you are well. There's no need to push yourself to the breaking point if you need a few days, or even a few weeks, to get your mental wellness to a healthy place.
Most workplaces today are understanding when an employee makes a medical request, whether it is in regard to physical or mental health issues. Of course, if you need time off, it's important to know how to ask. This article will guide you through the best steps to request, receive, and take a mental health leave of absence and ends with an example letter you can use to take this important time for personal wellness and recovery.
For business owners and HR managers reading this article, consider how the process reflects on your own internal leave-granting policies and how to ensure employees will be provided the time they need within the structure of your benefits package.
1) Consult with a Medical Health Professional
The first step to receive official leave for a health matter, mental health conditions included, is to consult a medical professional. See a licensed counsellor, therapist, or clinical psychologist to help you identify what you are going through.
Common reasons include being no longer able to continue day to day work due to mental illness like bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, or experiencing trouble with daily life as the result of severe anxiety or stress. A medical health professional will be able to give you formal documentation that your employer and your benefits provider can work with
Receive a Temporary or Permanent Diagnosis
Your mental health professional may be able to give you a formal diagnosis that will help you build and approve a treatment plan for your mental health struggles. This may be temporary stress, long-term depression, or a mental health condition that you may not have gotten a formal diagnosis for in the past.
Discuss Treatment or Self-Care Plans to Improve Your Mental Health
A recommended treatment plan can be something your employer will be able to approve and your health insurance may cover. If not, your health professional can still help you build a self-care plan and treatment suggestions for mental health concerns that you can enact during leave time to aid in mental health recovery.
Prepare a Formal Recommendation
Take the formal diagnosis and/or recommendation from your mental health professional to submit to your workplace.
When an employee presents a formal mental health recovery plan, be sure to consider it with the same seriousness as you would any physical health conditions that come with a doctor's recommendation - such as recovery for a broken leg or internal organ problems. An employee's mental health condition can be equally serious, including post traumatic stress disorder or relate to the disabilities act.
2) Consult with HR Concerning Your Leave Options
Next, consult with your HR representative about your options for taking leave based on your mental health recovery plan or ongoing medical treatment. HR will help you identify what you are eligible for and how to best use available benefits to take the time you need with the most support.
Ask About Paid Vacation or Sick Leave
You may be able to take some paid leave in the form of vacation time or sick leave for your mental health condition, or unpaid time off, depending on company policies. Some companies provide unlimited unpaid leave, some will approve sick leave with a mental health doctor's note.
Statutory Sick Leave (SSL)
In the UK, SSL or Statutory Sick Leave is mandatory paid sick leave for up to 28 weeks, and can includes mental health conditions. You will need to meet certain conditions for SSL approval:
- Employee or have an employment contract
- Ill or unable to work for 4 days, including non-work days
- Earn an average of at least £123 a week before tax.
- Informed your employer that you are too ill to work within a set deadline policy
Review Leave Options in Your Benefits Package
You may also have additional leave options as outlined in your benefits package. Every employer is a little different, so be sure to fully explore your options on leave for mental health both on your own and with the help of HR to try and meet your needs.
Take Advantage of Flexible Scheduling
If flexible scheduling is part of your employment package, use it. You may be able to take half-days, rearrange your work week, or schedule an extra long weekend to get the time you need for your mental well being. Working from home for a few days or weeks may be an option to reduce at-work stress, as well.
Take a Sabbatical
Some workplaces do not offer leave, but might have a sabbatical policy. A sabbatical allows you to take a scheduled professional break after a certain number of years with the company, and has been known to positively impact employee longevity. In many ways, a sabbatical is a mental health break built into the professional system.
If an employee is requesting leave for mental health, working with them to provide this time is in everyone's best interest. Remember to keep all employee medical records confidential in accordance with laws and regulations. Your job protected leave policies are designed to help employees refresh and return to work with better focus and productivity, whether this time needs to be SSL, vacation, or schedule flexibility.
3) Submit a Formal Mental Health Leave of Absence Letter
With your eligibility approved, submit a formal letter notifying your employer of your planned leave of absence. Clarify the days you will be out (or are requesting) and clarify the terms under which you have found your right to take these days. There is usually no need to disclose your mental health condition if it has already been cleared with HR.
Whether you have an amazing manager who you know will approve the time or someone who is very careful with approved leave, the right letter can help you defend your mental space and the time you need to get well while remaining respectful of the workplace policies.
Mental Health Leave of Absence Letter
- Write a formal letter that opens with a statement of intent - that you are requesting personal time off for a health matter. HR will let you know if you should clarify mental health or merely state your intent to take health-related time off.
- Indicate the policies you will be enacting to take the time (ex: SSL, flexible time, etc)
- Outline the time period you are taking or would like to schedule, and indicate how flexible this time can/should be according to policy
- Ask for support and understanding during this time, if applicable
- Offer assurances that your work will be wrapped up or delegated appropriately
- Thank your manager for their careful consideration
Equivalent Notice of Leave or Absence
Depending on policies, you may choose a slightly different approach or use your company's internal leave request system to formally let your manager know the days you need to take off and, roughly, why you are taking them.
If you receive such a letter, this is your opportunity to become one of the bosses that earn employee loyalty and longevity by being understanding. Do your best to avoid any unnecessary personal questions regarding medical reasons and to arrange the schedule to allow employees to use the time they need. If you are not HR, stay in touch with HR to confirm that all policies are being used as intended and are legally compliant.
4) Finalize Your Mental Health Recovery Plan with Providers
Once your leave is approved, book the treatments or health services that you may need to successfully complete your mental health recovery during this time.
Confirm and Schedule a Treatment Plan
If you have a medical treatment plan, confirm it with your health providers and schedule treatments. This will be something you discussed with your mental health provider and may already have options lined up.
Book Counseling or Support Services
If there is no formal treatment (as is normal), consider booking counselling and support services. If not counselling, book activities that will aid in your recovery. Perhaps a painting group, a yoga class, or just schedule all your groceries to be delivered and prepare to sleep off the stress for a week. Get your mental health services lined up, whatever they may be.
Build a Mental Health Recovery Plan
Complete your mental health recovery plan and get ready to get well. Whether this means actively pursuing healing or relaxing and allowing stress to dissipate, build a plan so that you don't accidentally let the days go by without purposefully making wellness progress.
5) Prepare Your Work for a Hiatus
Before you leave, be sure to prepare your team to handle any of your work tasks that may arise. Delegate your tasks evenly and, if you can, wrap up any assignments or projects that have been primarily yours to complete. This will leave you in good standing and minimize the impact of your absence so that you can enjoy your time off without causing undue stress to teammates or receiving dozens of phone calls that could interrupt your recovery.
Assist your employees in preparing and enacting the delegation of their tasks. Make a note in your calendar so you do not accidentally assign new tasks to an employee on hiatus while they are away, and look for opportunities to be supportive both to the team and the employee during this time.
6) Take Care of Your Mental Health and Return Refreshed
Finally, you are ready to take your leave for mental health. Put your recovery plan into action to ensure that each day, you are able to acheive the recovery you need. Seek professional treatment or counselling, do activities that relieve the stress or anxiety you have been experiencing, and go the extra mile to take care of yourself during this time.
When you return, you will be refreshed, energized, and able to focus on your work with renewed engagement. A successful mental health leave of absence is not just refreshing for you. It can also make approval of such breaks for yourself and others more likely when they are needed in the future.
Mental Health Leave Letter Example
Address and Phone Number
Dear Manager's Name,
I am submitting a formal request for a leave of absence from my position as the Thing You Do. I intend to take two weeks away between August 5 and August 19 to attend to a personal health matter under (SSL/Vacation/Leave Policy) as approved by HR Manager.
I have ensured that this time includes no urgent work that my team cannot handle. If my request is approved, I will ensure the delegation of my job responsibilities during my absence, and will be available by email should my input be required for any tasks.
If you need further information, please let me know via email. Thank you for your time and consideration.
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